As we say goodbye to the Segways we never needed, it’s time to say hello to moving our bodies in the way nature intended.
News this week announced that Segway is ending production of its namesake vehicle. This doesn’t come as a huge surprise because, despite the original trumpeting of Segway as a transformational leap in personal mobility, the reality has been a long way short of this. Besides a few overweight police officers, mall cops and the odd bunch of helmeted, embarrassed tourists, they’ve been shunned by just about everyone.
The two-wheeled personal transporter, which carries a standing passenger on a wide platform will be buried on July 15th. This is only a decade after the company’s president was buried after riding one off a cliff.
I’m not making light of this at all. In fact, quite the opposite. There is a serious side to this inventive frolic. The original inventor of the Segway, Dean Kamen, envisioned a transportation revolution when the machines were launched in 1999. But there were some problems from the start. The Segway’s original price tag of US$5,000 was a hurdle. It was also a pain to ride. You had to be balanced at a specific angle in order to make it move forward. If you shifted your weight too much then it could spin around and throw you off.
I’m not anti-personal mobility devices. I think the bicycle is one of the greatest and most under-appreciated inventions in human history. I think e-scooters should be available to everyone in cities everywhere. These inventions have the capacity to rid our cities of reliance on cars and make them far safer and more sustainable.
The problem with the Segway was that it was never going to replace car trips. It seemed to be trying to replace walking. I’m big on walking. There isn’t enough walking going on. When someone tries to replace waking – as Segway attempted to do – they’re in trouble. Not just with me, but with you too.
Here’s the problem. We don’t walk enough. The average citizen of an OECD country today is taking around 3,000 steps. That’s a long way short of the 10,000 steps a day we should roughly aim for. In fact it’s less than 20 minutes of moving in each 24 hour period.
Think about that for a minute. For 23 hours and 40 minutes we are sitting (in cars, at desks, on sofas, in cafes) or lying down. It is s l o w l y killing us. We live in a built environment that discourages us to walk anywhere. Our cars, roads, escalators, travellators, drive-through windows, far flung suburban sprawl and shopping malls subtly encourage us to not walk anywhere. It’s not natural. We are fighting our own biology every single day. Our modern, sedentary lifestyles are helping drive up the rates of modern avoidable diseases like obesity, heart disease, depression and anxiety, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. We have to walk more. Not less.
One positive thing that Covid19 has visited upon us is the realisation that our lifestyles have to change. We have to prioritise people’s health and wellbeing. We have to reengineer our cities so that they prioritise ‘pedestrians’ (as traffic engineers call us) or ‘people’ as I like to call us, over cars. We have to make walking or cycling the default setting for people, wherever we can. The pay-off for this is a far more healthy, happy, connected population.
Our bodies are the most perfectly designed invention imaginable. Let’s use them.
Goodbye Segways. Tell your story walking.